Saturday, July 22, 2017

India’s standoff with China is not about helping Bhutan – but in its own national interest

China has insisted that the Doklam stand-off is unlike any other India-China border dispute. Responding to Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar’s remark that the two countries had peacefully resolved such border issues in the past, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reiterated, on July 12, that this problem was different.

Does this mean Beijing’s response to the current stand-off will also be different than in the past?

It is difficult to predict just what the Chinese might do. Geng did give an indication, though, remarking, in the context of Kashmir, that China “stands to play a constructive role to improve the relations between Pakistan and India”.
On July 13, India politely declined the offer.
A few days ago, a Chinese scholar suggested that Beijing could respond to India’s intervention in Doklam plateau by stepping into Jammu and Kashmir on behalf of Pakistan. Many in India may be surprised to know this but the official Chinese position on Kashmir is that it’s a dispute that needs to be resolved by India and Pakistan. As recently as May this year, the Chinese foreign ministry declared, “China’s position on the issue of Kashmir is clear and consistent. It is an issue left over from history between India and Pakistan, and shall be properly addressed by India and Pakistan through consultation and negotiation.”
China shares this stand with most countries, including the United States. Abandoning it could be a serious setback for India since China is a veto-wielding member of the United Nations Security Council. Any possible escalation, however, may not be so much military as political.
Another casualty could be the Sikkim-Tibet border agreement. China maintains that the border has been settled by the Convention of 1890. India has not said much – and that is significant. Referring to the Indian foreign ministry’s June 30 statement on the Doklam stand-off, a Chinese spokesman complained that it “completely left out the Convention Between Great Britain and China Relating to Sikkim and Tibet of 1890 which clearly defined the China-India boundary alignment in areas where the incident happened”.
Indeed, the June 30 statement does not mention the convention. It merely refers to an “agreement that the trijunction boundary points between India, China and third countries will be finalised in consultation with third countries”.
In an interview to The Wire earlier this month, former National Security Adviser and Special Representative for talks with China Shivshankar Menon said, “In 2012 the SRs [Special Representatives] had a broad understanding that trijunctions will be finalised in consultation with the third country concerned. This latest incident and statements saying this is Chinese territory are contrary to that understanding.” He was referring to the Special Representatives appointed by both countries to help resolve the border disputes.
In other words, India does not accept China’s contention that the Sikkim-Tibet border is settled. Perhaps, Indian strategists reckon that since much of the 4,000-km China-India border is disputed anyway, why not add this 220-km stretch to it, especially since this encompasses the strategically important trijunction.
Actually, there is a great deal of difference in the place names and understandings of the border. The location of the trijunction itself is disputed. India believes it is at Batangla, while China and the 1890 Convention put it at Mount Gipmochi, 8 km to the south-east as the crow flies. Compounding the problem is that even the location of Gipmochi is under question, with the confusion about a place called Gymochen: some databases identify them as the same place and others as different places about five kilometres apart.

Getting back

And when it comes to the question of borders, there’s a clear possibility that the war of words will not stop at the Sikkim and Kashmir issues, and may go all the way to the mother of them all – India’s recognition of Tibet as a part of China.
Tibet, the Sino-Indian border negotiations, the defeat of 1962, are all linked with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s sworn enemy – Jawaharlal Nehru. There is nothing that the party would like more than to upend Nehru’s legacy to the country, be it good or bad. The recognition of China’s sovereignty over Tibet, the border negotiations that yielded nothing, are all in the minds of the party faithful, linked to the malign influence of Nehru on India.
Is it a coincidence that ever since it came to power, the Modi government has encouraged the Tibetan government-in-exile? The Sikyong (Prime Minister) of the government-in-exile Lobsang Sangay was invited to attend Modi’s swearing in as prime minister. More recently and, indeed, in the middle of the Doklam crisis, a photograph surfaced of Sangay hoisting a Tibetan flag on the shores of the Pangong Lake which is on the border between Ladakh and Tibet.
So if Beijing can abandon its old position on Jammu and Kashmir, New Delhi may well riposte by “de-recognising” its acceptance, most recently in 2003 by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, that the Tibet Autonomous Region is a part of China.
Such an eventuality could well lock India and China in an unending cycle of conflict. Thus, it is imperative that the two countries pause and think through every step they take to deal with the current stand-off.

Historical grievances

It is difficult to apportion blame for this turn of events for they are layered upon a sense of historical grievances.
In Beijing’s case, there is the exaggerated narrative of the so-called century of humiliation, when it was overcome by western powers. However, even as China was reeling from western aggression in late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was imposing its will on states such as Tibet and Xinjiang. Today, China speaks of its “ancient” claim to the Doklam region. The claim is fictitious because there were no Chinese in the Indo-Tibetan frontier region until recently.
The Indian grievances relate to the manner in which they were played on the Sino-Indian border. The Chinese have kept shifting the goalposts at will, sometimes making one set of claims, sometimes another. And overlaying this is the Sino-Indian war of 1962 which, the noted scholar John Garver said was about teaching India to respect the power of “new China.” But, he observed, as a commentary and warning on Chinese policy, that had war not occurred, “‘China’s Tibet’ would today face less threat from India”. As it is, Britain forced India’s hand on Tibet by acknowledging Chinese “suzerainty” over it through their agreement of 1906, then undid this by signing the 1914 convention that gave rise to the McMahon Line. Finally in 2008, Britain junked its fictitious “suzerainty” formulation and accepting that Tibet was, indeed, a part of China.
And while we ponder over these imponderables, let’s get one thing clear. The Indian action in the Doklam plateau is not about helping little Bhutan, but in protecting its own national interest. The contentious ridge, which lies roughly at a right angle to the Sikkim-Bhutan border, is also called Zomperi or Jampheri. In the past, Chinese patrols have visited it regularly, on foot after parking their vehicles near Doka La. What triggered the current stand-off was China’s attempt to lay a road towards a Bhutanese outpost on the ridge, which overlooks a sliver of Bhutanese territory, and beyond to the Siliguri Corridor. Bhutan’s security will not be affected if it gives away Doklam in an exchange of territory with China. India, however, will find it difficult to live with the Chinese overlooking a sensitive part of its territory. July 14, 2017

Chink In The Checker’s Board

The Doklam plateau is an area of vulnerability for China and India. The Chinese action is the usual creeping barrage of aggression and presenting faits accomplis. 

Chink In The Checker’s Board

India has had a long history of standoffs with China, given their long and unsettled border. On one occasion it has led to war, on others, skirmishes and artillery duels. But in the past 40 years, the confrontations have been carefully choreographed through a series of Confidence Building Measures to ensure that the two countries do not end up shooting at each other.
What makes the current clash in Doklam plateau serious is its location, and the fact that it is entangled with the issues of a third country, Bhutan. The location is near the Siliguri Corridor, a narrow neck of land, just about 25 km at places, bound by Nepal and Bangladesh and proximate to Bhutan and China.
As distances go, Siliguri, the principal rail, air and road hub that connects Northeast India to the rest of India, is just 8 km from Bangladesh, 40 km from Nepal, 60 km from Bhutan and 150 km from China. With China seeking to expand control over the Dok­­lam plateau, it shortens the distance by 20 kms or so.
Chinese proximity comes through the Chumbi Valley, a sliver of land between Bhutan and India (Sikkim)—the main route of ingress and egress from Tibet to India. What the present face-off is all about is the Chinese effort to add an area of some 40 sq kms or so to the south of the existing trijunction, which India and Bhutan place near Batang La.
From the point of view of treaty, the Chinese have a point.

The Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890 exp­licitly lays down the start point of the border, and the trijunction, at a place called Mount Gipmochi. But, while India has to accept this as part of the agr­­eement that defines the Sikkim-Tibet border, the Bhutanese don’t, as they were not party to it. So, they have been contesting this and have extended their claim, belatedly though, to the Doklam plateau, a rough area between Gipmochi, a place called Gye­mochen which is south of Doka La, and northwards on the ridge to Doka La itself and Batang La.

 The issue emerged when the Royal Bhutan Army spotted the Chinese building a road towards their post in the Doklam area. They probably approached the Indians for help and the Indian Army moved across the border at Doka La to block the construction. According to an MEA statement, India and Bhutan had been in close contact on the issue, and in coordination with the Bhutanese, “Indian personnel who were present at the general area Doklam approached the Chinese construction party and urged them to desist from changing the status quo.”

Bhutan has been taking up the issue for years and had been reminding China of the 1998 agreement not to alter the status quo of the China-Bhutan boundary, pending its final resolution. But as is their wont, the Chinese are relentless and follow the tactic which they practice elsewhere—of creating facts on the ground and leaving you with a fait acompli.
The Chinese are hopping mad, because they say that India has violated an accepted border, which is true. But the Indians have done so to prevent the Chinese from bullying the Bhutanese, who lack the capacity to deal with the Chinese. But the Indians have also done it because a deepening of the Chumbi Valley can aid in undermining their otherwise strong defences in Sikkim and the Siliguri corridor.

 International treaties are pieces of paper whose value is only set if both the parties have an interest in upholding them. The Chinese have not hesitated to blatantly violate the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas in reclaiming and fortifying rocks and reefs in the South China Sea. So if India perceives that its security is being dangerously undermined, it will act, treaty or no treaty. Even so, New Delhi needs to carefully think if it wants to question the 1890 treaty and reopen the Sikkim-Tibet boundary for negotiation. Beyond that, it must remain prepared to confront the always active PLA.
Given its location, the Siliguri Corridor has long been the focus of military planners and arm-chair str­ategists. When Bangladesh was East Pakistan, there were concerns about possible consequences of Sino-Pak collusion. To pressure India to ease off on Pakistan in the 1965 war, China built up its forces in the Chumbi Valley and tried to coerce Indian troops deployed on the Sikkim border. In 1967, there were more serious clashes at Nathu La and Cho La, both in Sikkim. With the creation of Bangladesh, the wor­ries have lessened, but not entirely gone.

The job of military men is to construct scenarios and plan to deal with them. Many alternatives can be constructed for military operations in the region. Writing in 2013, Lt Gen (retd) Prakash Katoch said that the Doklam plateau, if occupied by the Chinese, will turn the flanks of Indian defences in Sikkim and endanger the Siliguri corridor. The late Capt. Bharat Verma hypothesised a  Chinese special forces attack to seize the Corridor. John Garver cites Ind­­­­ian planners worrying about the Siliguri Corr­i­dor being the ‘anvil’ for a PLA hammer coming once again through Bomdi La in Arunachal Pradesh. There are concerns, too, that in the event of hostilities, Chinese forces may just bypass Indian defen­ces overlooking the Chumbi Valley and come through Bhutan.
But Indian vulnerability is much larger. The Siliguri Corridor does not have to worry about just the putative Chinese attack. It is in itself a cauldron of tension, with agitating Gorkhas, Kamtapuri and Bodo separatists, smugglers and transiting militants using it.

For their part, the PLA, too, must be looking at alt­­ernate scenarios, especially after their experience with Gen Sundarji and Operation Falcon/Cheq­ue­rboard. India can use its flanking positions in Sikkim to “pinch out” the Chumbi Valley and emerge astride a Chinese highway going to Lhasa. The Chinese know the Chumbi Valley was the route that Sir Fra­ncis Younghusband took in his expedition to Tibet. This attack could well come from northern Sikkim, which is a relatively flat plateau, where Sundarji had once emplaced tanks and Infantry Combat Vehicles in the 1986-87 stand-off with China.
The Chinese worry about the history of the region too. Kalimpong and the erstwhile East Pakistan are where the CIA and Tibetan exiles once planned operations against their forces in Tibet.
Indian and Chinese perceptions of vulnerability are common—the Chinese worry about the Chumbi Valley and Indians are concerned about the Siliguri Corridor. But both have larger calculations and concerns. The Chinese are neurotic about Tibetan separatism and see India as the principal villain, so they adopt a forward policy wherever they can to keep us off balance on this issue.
The Northeast is, of course, intrinsically important to us. But it also has a practical and important military role beyond just the defence of the area. It is where we locate our strategic deterrent viz. long-range nuclear armed missiles, which otherwise lack the range as of now to hit principal Chinese cities.

This is one area with dense military deployments on both sides, the only  part of the 4,000 km Sino-Indian border where the armies are close to each other—some 40-50 ft apart in Nathu La and Cho La. In the past decade, India has steadily enhanced its defence capabilities in the East, raising new formations, acquiring heavy-lift helicopters, mountain artillery, as well as forward basing fighter jets. With a new Mountain Strike Corps, headquartered in North Bengal, India has also enhanced the ability of its Army to intervene along the border. But in many ways, it has been playing catch up with the Chinese.
We need to enter a caveat about the chances of all-out war. Of course, it benefits none. The nuclear factor is not something you can ignore. So, the likelihood is that the Chinese will continue their strategy of hybrid warfare, using “Tibetan grazers” to encro­ach on  territory, or building roads without a by-your-leave, creating facts on the ground that become dif­­­­ficult to question. Moreover, Bhutan is vulnerable, because it lacks the ability to challenge the PLA. The main lesson of the present confrontation is the need for a new strategy of dealing with the challenge.
Outlook July 17, 2017

PM’s Israel Visit: High on Hype But Low on Deliverables

Separating the hype from the reality of the Modi visit to Israel is not an easy task. In part this is because of the personalities involved. Both Prime Minister Modi and his Israeli counterpart ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu are hyped up personalities.
Take, for example, Bibi’s comment that the India-Israel friendship was “a marriage made in heaven.” In no time, the internet put out that this was Israel’s third marriage since the Israeli PM had used an identical phrase to describe his country’s relationship with a) Microsoft in 2016 and b) China earlier this year in March.

 Playing to the Gallery
Modi played to the gallery with a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, as well as a meeting with young Moshe Holtzberg who survived the Mumbai terrorist attack of 2008 that took the lives of his parents Rivka and Gavriel.
Yet, strangely enough, there was no reference to bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack to justice, as was the case in the US joint statement recently.
A measure of the publicity were the front page headlines that accompanied the decision of the two countries to set up a $ 40 million fund for joint innovation.
Just two days earlier, Indian tycoons Nandan Nilekani and Sanjeev Agarwal set up a $100 million fund in India, which was appropriately placed in the business pages of newspapers.

Terrorism did figure in the joint statement between India and Israel, but not in any prominent way.
Terrorism did figure in the joint statement between India and Israel, but not in any prominent way. (Photo: Lijumol Joseph/The Quint)

Israel’s Careful Posture

Admiration for Israel is part of the BJP’s DNA. The Jewish state is seen as a model for what they would like India to be, and its battles with Arabs and Palestinians is seen as being similar to India’s fight with Pakistan.

Israel’s muscular approach to dealing with its adversaries is the envy of Modi & Co, never mind the fact that several wars and annexation of territory have not brought peace to Israel, which lives in high state of tension over potential terror strikes.
Given its size, Israel has some justification for adopting a posture which compels it to fight its battles outside the bounds of the country. India on the other hand, does not face a comparable threat, yet, the Modi government makes out as though terrorism is an existential threat to India.
Terrorism did figure in the joint statement but not in any prominent way. The Israelis probably did not want to get too mixed up in the Indian focus on the Taliban and the Pakistani groups. And unlike our other strategic ally, the US, they did not call on Pakistan to ensure that its territory was not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries.

Deliverables From the Visit

Minus the hype, then, the real meat in the visit was on practical matters. There is a great deal India can learn from Israel in the area of water management and agriculture.
But while Israel can give us the technology which it already does, and help us with some extension work, it is India’s responsibility to disseminate it widely and it’s not clear whether our states have the capacity to do so.
Israel is important to us in the area of space programmes. It may be recalled that the first radar imaging satellite used by our defence services, TechSar, was custom-built in Israel. What India needs to tap is Israel’s huge SME sector which has world-class niche capabilities in a range of technologies.
The joint statement has identified some areas like atomic clocks, GEO-LEO optical links, and electrical propulsion of satellites.

Defence Pact Fairly Routine

Another area of importance is cyber security. Though the joint statement makes an anodyne reference, India would be well advised to make this a focus area of its relationship.
Given its security perspective, Israel has developed a high-quality IT base specialising in anti-virus software, cyber defence technologies and other forms of internet security. Many global vendors have set up shop in Israel or, like Microsoft, acquired Israeli companies. Israel’s ties with the United States gives it a special edge in this area.
The joint statement reference to defence is, again, fairly routine, emphasising the need to focus on joint development of products and transfer of technology from Israel.
A lot of the technology has an American connection and any transfer would require a US go-ahead. Indeed, one of the principal Indian motives in establishing close defence ties with Israel was to use it as a cutout for US technologies which are always difficult to acquire and come with many conditions. But Israel takes a totally business-like approach to defence technologies and India has to shell out hard cash to acquire them.
Indian defence imports are vital for Israel constituting 41 percent of the exports of their arms industry. Notwithstanding the hype, they are less important for India, and amount to just 7 percent of our imports, with many of the products we get also available from other European and Russian companies.

De-Hyphenating Palestine

Modi and Netanyahu probably see each other as birds of a feather. Both are right-wing and revel in muscular policies both at home and abroad, though in Bibi’s case, the posture is an outcome of his dependence on extreme right-wing parties.
The Modi government’s crackdown on NGOs, for example, finds an echo in Israel, where the government is seeking to pass a law to check human rights NGOs.
For Israel, the Modi visit is a big thing, because of the obvious veneration that the visitor has for the Jewish state, unlike many other leaders around the world who would rather avoid the Israeli embrace.
Added to this is Modi’s decision to de-hyphenate the Palestinian relationship by avoiding a visit to Ramallah, the Palestinian headquarters, which is just 30 minutes away by road.
However, the joint statement does endorse the Israel-Palestine Peace process, even though under Netanyahu it is dead in the water. Modi’s admiration for Israel has led to India giving up an important plank of its foreign policy.

Israel’s Equation With China and Iran

The contrast with China could not be starker. China’s trade with Israel is three times that of India, already more than a thousand Israeli start-up companies have set up shop in China.
Bibi has strongly endorsed the One Belt One Road project yet, Beijing has not hesitated as to support UN resolutions denouncing Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory and in 2016, during a visit to Egypt, Xi Jinping called for the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem.
Iran has been the invisible elephant in the Indian-Israeli room. Netanyahu views it as an existential threat to Israel and has done all he can to get the US to act against its nuclear programme. On the other hand, Iran forms an important part of India’s geopolitical thrust to the Middle-East.
Iran’s location and the Chah Bahar and International North South Transportation Corridor projects offer New Delhi a means of riposting China’s OBOR. Just how New Delhi hopes to square the circle of its “strategic ties” with Israel and the US. Although, its strategic needs with Iran are not clear.
The Quint July 6, 2017

On India-China Himalayan face-off, China may just have a case

All the bluster and threats between India and China these days should not conceal the fact that on the Doklam stand-off China has a case. Yet, the opacity in the position of all three players—India, China and Bhutan— confuses the issue. Certainly, the face-off speaks for the need for an urgent need for all parties to address the issue through negotiations, rather than military means.
To start with, India’s position on the tri-junction at the borders of the three countries being near Batang La (N 27°19′48″ & E 88°55′04”) is not tenable. The reason is that Sikkim’s border with Tibet, the only settled border between India and China, is determined by the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890 which says that “it commences at Mount Gipmochi on the Bhutan frontier.” In other words, Mount Gipmochi is the tri-junction, although its coordinates (27°16’00.0″N & 88°57’00.0″E) places it around 7.5 km south-west as the crow flies from where India and Bhutan claim the tri-junction is.
To go by the reading of the treaty, which talks of the boundary following the watershed, the border should go from Gipmochi to Gyemochen (27° 16′ 26″ N, 088° 54′ 08″ E ) and then north to Batang La.
India has accepted the validity of the Convention. On March 22, 1959, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to his Chinese counterparts, that “The boundary of Sikkim, a protectorate of India, with the Tibet Region of China was defined in the Anglo Chinese Convention of 1890 and jointly demarcated on the ground.”
In a note later that December, the Chinese foreign ministry, too, accepted that the Sikkim boundary “has long been formally delimited and there is neither any discrepancy between the maps nor any disputes in practice.”
So, the Chinese are right to complain that India is violating the treaty in sending its troops across at Doka La (N 27°17′22″ E 88°54′57″) which is between Batang La and Gyemochen, to block a Chinese road construction team.
But the issue is not that simple. While the British and the Chinese decided that the border would begin at Mount Gipmochi, they did not consult the Bhutanese. It is only after 1910 that Bhutan became a formal British protectorate. Bhutan is not bound by the Anglo-Chinese convention, nor the boundary it has created. In fact, while the Bhutan-India border has been formally delimited and demarcated as of 2006, the 470 km border with China is in the process of being settled through negotiations.
In their note of December 26,1959, the Chinese had noted that in the case of Bhutan “there is only a certain discrepancy between the delineation on the maps of the two sides in the sector south of the so-called McMahon Line.” But typical of the Chinese, they have expanded their claim over the years to include not just chunks of northern and western Bhutan, but also a significant area of eastern Bhutan.
So far the two sides have had 24 rounds of talks. In the process, Bhutan has conceded a great deal of Chinese claims, and by their reckoning, there are now only some 269 sq kms yet to be settled—two chunks in western Bhutan and an 89 sq km area of Doklam where the present problem is focused.
While China claims that the Doklam plateau is “indisputably” part of China, Bhutan’s ambassador to India V Namgyel publicly complained at the end of June that a Chinese road being constructed was headed for a camp of the Royal Bhutan Army at Zom Pelri. He added that “Bhutan has conveyed that the road construction by the PLA is not in keeping with the agreements between China and Bhutan. We have asked them to stop and refrain from changing the status quo.”
Here Bhutan is correct. In December 1998 the two sides signed an agreement whose Article 3 noted that “prior to the ultimate solution of the boundary issues, peace and tranquillity along the border should be maintained and the status quo of the boundary prior to March 1959 should be upheld and not to resort to unilateral action to alter the status quo of the border.”
Clearly, China is violating this agreement and its December 1959 acknowledgement that there was only some “discrepancy” in the Sino-Bhutan border’s delineation and that, too, in the east, is proof that it knows as well. Further, from the start China has maintained systematic pressure on the Bhutanese border by its road-building activities, which have often been undertaken in Bhutanese territory and in plain sight of Royal Bhutan Army posts.
But Bhutan’s own conduct is not above reproach. It was only in the 14th round of talks held in Beijing in November 2000 that it actually extended the claim line of the border to the Doklam area. A translation of the proceedings and resolutions of the 79th session of the National Assembly of Bhutan says, “during the 14th round of border talks held in China the Bhutanese delegation had further extended the claim line in three areas in Doklam, Sinchulumba and Dramana.”
Bhutan’s Council of Ministers had decided that “the claim line in these areas should be extended as much as possible.”
The Bhutanese sprang these last-minute changes on the Chinese and asked them to take into account the discrepancy of the size of the two countries. But Beijing’s officials told their Bhutanese counterparts that they could not offer any concessions, because this would impact on their negotiations with other countries.
No doubt China believed that Bhutan had been put up to it by the Indians.
The principal issue concerns China and Bhutan. Under the India-Bhutan friendship treaty of 2007 that guides our relations, the two sides are committed to “cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interests.” But this is not tantamount to a military alliance that commits us to come to the aid of the other party automatically. This is especially so in an issue which is so tangled and complicated as the Bhutan’s claim of Doklam plateau and India’s own commitment to the Anglo-Chinese convention of 1890 that seems to negate it.
Instead of talking up war, the government of India needs to feel its way carefully here. The area is sensitive for India’s security, but it is not as if India confronts an existential threat on the ground.
Indian Express Online July 5, 2017

How China is eyeing influence over the region with Bhutan

China likes to boast of the number of neighbours with whom it has peacefully settled its disputes. But it doesn’t quite talk about those with whom it has border disputes. At present, China’s expansive claims, based on imperial boundaries, vex its relations with South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, India and lately, Bhutan. Last month, the dispute between the Asian giant and the tiny kingdom of Bhutan came to the fore.
Chinese borders with Bhutan have arisen through their establishing control over Tibet, though to hear the official spokesman, Doklam, the area on the Sikkim-Bhutan border where the recent events occurred, “had been a part of China since ancient times.”

Mapping issues
The problem arises from the nature of the Bhutanese state which did not even have an official map of the country till 1961. Indeed, the other day, the Chinese spokesman said that the Chinese boundary in the region was laid out by Article 1 of the Anglo-Chinese convention on the Sikkim and Tibet boundary.
However, Bhutan was not party to this treaty and it was only after 1910 that its foreign relations were “guided” by the British. With Indian help, a map was prepared and between 1963 and 1971, Bhutan began the process of finalising its boundary with India.
In fact, the two sides formally demarcated their 699km border only in 2006. Bhutan shares borders with India in the east in Arunachal Pradesh; in Sikkim, as well as Assam and West Bengal. In 1989, after conducting its own surveys and checking tax records, Bhutan brought out a map that was subsequently approved by the 68th National Assembly. Bhutan, shares a 470km border with China which had never been delimited or demarcated.
The first round of talks on the boundary issue was held in Beijing in April 1984 and starting from the 6th round, these have been held at the ministerial level. Since the 1990s, there have been complaints from Bhutan about Chinese road construction activities in areas it considers part of Bhutan.
In view of these complaints, the two sides signed an “Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility in Bhutan-China Border Areas” in 1998 commiting to maintain the status quo on the border pending its final settlement. But the fault has not only been on the Chinese side.
The Bhutanese, too, have expanded their claims, especially in the Doklam area as evidenced by the proceedings of the 79th session of its National Assembly in 2001.


The conflict
A report of the 84th session of Bhutan’s National Assembly in 2005 noted that there were as many as six different roads being constructed by the Chinese in the northern boundaries in 2004.
However, after protests, four of these were stopped. Last month’s incidents near the China-Bhutan-India trijunction is, at one level, a continuation of Chinese policy to create “facts on the ground” and present its interlocutors with a fait accompli. China and Bhutan have held 24 rounds of border talks so far.
In 2002, the Bhutanese pointed out that the disputes were in four significant areas, the first, and most important involving 89sqkm from the Indian point of view was in the Doklam area, which is adjacent to Sikkim.
As a result of talks, the extent of the disputed area was reduced from 1128sqkm to 269sqkm, this included the Doklam area, as well as two other points in north-western Bhutan.
The northern claims were voluntarily given up by Bhutan, but it has made no difference to the Chinese, since what they want most is the Doklam area adjacent to Sikkim because of its strategic significance. Beyond borders, Chinese aims in Bhutan are to establish formal relations and expand bilateral relations.
To this end, they emphasise the historical and cultural ties between Bhutan and Tibet. Chinese ambassadors and high officials regularly visit Bhutan on working visits and Bhutanese officials reciprocate.
Yet as of now, Bhutan is not willing to permit a Chinese embassy in Thimpu. It goes without saying that ties with Bhutan are vital for India. For one, Bhutan is a key buffer between China and the Siliguri Corridor. It's not surprising that Prime Minister Modi’s first overseas visit abroad was to Thimpu.

India’s role
Bhutan is a well-managed and placid area of India’s otherwise tumultuous neighbourhood relationships. New Delhi has been careful to calibrate its policy with Bhutanese aspirations, for example, by modifying the India-Bhutan treaty in 2007 to adjust to the transformation of Bhutan into a constitutional monarchy.
Instead of guiding Bhutan’s foreign policy, as it did under the older treaty, India and Bhutan now “cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interests.” And right now, there is an enormous congruence of interests in dealing with China’s effort to push the India-China-Bhutan southwards.
Were Bhutan to privilege its own national interests and strike a deal with China, it would have serious consequences for India.
Mail Today July 3, 2017

Operation Falcon: When Gen Sundarji Took the Chinese By Surprise

The PLA spokesman’s response in relation to the current India-China standoff,  that India should not forget the lesson of history, suggests that the PLA itself may have forgotten some.
True, in 1962, the PLA roundly defeated the Indian Army. But in border skirmishes in 1967 in this very region, and in 1986-87, the Indian Army’s power play so rattled the PLA that it sacked its Tibet Military District Commander and its Military Region chief in Chengdu.
In its own way, the present Chinese action in the India-Bhutan-China trijunction could well be an outcome of the event that many have forgotten. This is the conflict that developed in the Sumdorong Chu region, north of Tawang in 1986, and led to a major military push, Operation Falcon, led by the then Indian Army chief Gen Krishnaswamy Sundarji.
 Amidst skirmishes at the Indo-China border, it’s worth recollecting the feats of Gen Krishnaswamy Sundarji who led Operation Falcon.

India’s Policy on China After 1962 War

The roots of the problem went back to the late 1970s, when India finished licking their wounds following the 1962 war. That had begun when Indian forces were ordered to cross the Namka Chu rivulet and evict Chinese troops from the Thag La ridge, also north of Tawang, which India believed was the true border defined by the McMahon Line. The Chinese reacted strongly and launched a major attack across the Sino-Indian border. The outcome was a defeat for the Indian Army, with some of the worst catastrophes occurring in this region.
So, there was a certain sensitivity when New Delhi decided in 1983 that it should once again adopt a credible posture in this area to defend the major monastery town of Tawang. Indian forces stayed south of Namka Chu, but an IB team began visiting Sumdorong Chu, a few kilometres east of the site of the first clash of 1962 on the far side of the Nyamjang Chu.
Both Sumdorong Chu and Namka Chu flowed into this north-south flowing river, the former from the east and the latter from the west. The team camped there through summer and went back in winter. They did so in 1984 and 1985, but when they went back in 1986, they found the Chinese there in force. The Indians protested in June 1986, but the Chinese insisted that the area was north of the “so-called McMahon Line.”
All this happened in the wake of the Chinese decision to do one of those foreign policy somersaults they periodically do.

China’s Demands

Till the early 1980s, the Chinese expressed their willingness to resolve the Sino-Indian border dispute by swapping claims, that is that India surrender its claims to Aksai Chin, in exchange for them giving up claims to North East Frontier Agency (NEFA, later Arunachal Pradesh).
New Delhi had rejected the offers when they had been originally made in 1960 by Zhou Enlai and then again by Deng Xiaoping in 1988 to External Affairs Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1979.
So when, during the border talks of 1985, the Chinese suddenly took the line that there was a bigger problem on the eastern sector and only if India gave concessions there, would it be willing to offer concessions on the western sector, the Indian side was baffled.
Soon it became clear that the Chinese were upping the ante in the east.
The decision was taken, therefore, to shore up Indian defences in the region. As part of this, the Army devised Operation Falcon to enable it to move up to the border in quick time from their peacetime positions.

Operation Falcon

Since there was no road beyond Tawang, Gen Sundarji decided to use the IAF’s new Russian-made heavy lift MI-26 helicopters to air land a brigade at a place called Zemithang, south of the Sino-Indian border but 90 kms by road from Tawang.
The airlift took place between 18 and 20 October 1986, the dates fraught in Indian history as they marked the beginning of the Sino-Indian war 24 years earlier in this very sector. They took up positions on Hathung La ridge overlooking Sumdorong Chu along with three other key mountain features. In 1962, the Chinese held the high ground; this time, the Indians.
With China scrambling to rush forces to the region, both sides began a general mobilisation along the entire border. Here again, Sundarji had a few surprises.
Innovatively using the heavy lift assets, which included Il-76 aircraft and the AN-26 helicopter, the Army placed T-72 tanks and infantry combat vehicles in the Demchok area of Ladakh and northern Sikkim.
The Chinese fumbled for a response and subsequently, a 15 November flag meeting calmed things down a bit. But now, India decided to take the opportunity to convert Arunachal, which was a centrally administered territory till then, into a full-fledged state.

South Block Had Its Doubts

Now came the kind of bluster we are hearing again in June 2017, reminding India of the lessons of 1962. The supreme leader Deng Xiaoping himself issued the threat to teach India “another lesson.” But the Army held firm, though the civilian side got a bit shaky. On 4 December, Rajiv Gandhi learnt of the developments at the border at the Navy Day reception traditionally held at the house of the Navy chief. Alarmed, he asked Sundarji and civilian defence officials to convene in the South Block Ops room after the reception.
Sundarji told him that they were a result of a Cabinet Committee on Security decision in 1983 ordering the Army to take up positions that would enable the defence of Tawang. While the Army had gone about the process methodically over the past years, the politicians and babus had simply not paid attention.
There was a heated argument at this point, with some officials wondering whether the Army had exceeded its brief and whether it was really necessary to occupy Hathung La and the surrounding features. Sundarji riposted that in the Army’s professional judgment, it was.
And, offering them the pointer he was using, he said that if they wanted other advice, they were welcome to seek it. It didn’t take much to remind the officials that civilian interference in operational matters was what had led to the disaster of 1962 – they backed off.

Sundarji’s Chequerboard Exercise

Through the early months of 1987, the two armies faced off against each other across the border. In the Hathung La area, they were practically eyeball to eyeball. Sundarji now launched an Exercise Chequerboard to further strengthen the Indian posture all across the Himalayan region, including pushing the authorities to undertake a crash road-building scheme to complete the projects that had been in a limbo since the 1970s. It is another matter that many of them are still not complete.
The crisis played on till May 1987, when the External Affairs Minister Narain Dutt Tiwari stopped over in Beijing on his way to Pyongang. After his talks with his Chinese counterparts, the temperature in the forward areas began subside.
India’s decision to firmly deal with the issue had beneficent consequences. It opened the way for Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Beijing in December 1988 and gave India the confidence to detach the issue of the border settlement from the need to cultivate better relations with China. Further, it got the Chinese to agree to an equitable regime of CBMs (confidence-building measures), which were eventually written up in an agreement to maintain peace and tranquillity on the border in 1993.
There was another interesting fallout of the visit – the Chinese were so impressed by Sundarji that they invited him to visit China. They were curious to meet the person who had in the space of one year, shaken up both the Pakistan Army through Exercise Brasstacks and the PLA through Op Falcon, and led India into a military venture in Sri Lanka.
However, the government felt that the visit would be premature. Eventually it was General Bipin Joshi who became the first chief to visit China in 1994. After he retired, Sundarji too visited China.
The Quint July 1, 2017